Japan – more things I loved

JAPAN – Details I loved

JAPAN – Architecture, castles and gardens

A new building in Shibuya district, only 6 floors. I love the curved glass.
I don’t know when this building dates from, with cast concrete slabs decorating the facade. Very different from any other building sin Shibuya district.
A loping brick wall, I have no idea of its purpose but I can only think it might be a sunscreen?!
Low relief cast concrete sign on the outer wall of a public toilet, near the old cemetry in Edo District
I have never seen such an interesting handrail on exterior steps. Beautifully made.
Gorgeous polished copper facade on this bar beside the river. I wonder how often it will need re-polishing.
Backlit 3D structure in the ceiling over the staircase in a large department store.
One of the corner fortresses of the Imperial Palace gardens with modern Tokyo in the background.
Massive granite walls define the extended gardens, the wardens cycle around for speed.
Lines of low hedges define the contours juxtaposed with perfectly smooth flat lawns.

Fortress at Odawara
Modern architecture in Kyoto
Raked sand gardens in Kyoto
Extraordinary glass roof-scape over Kyoto station
Interesting facade in Tokyo
Re-fit of an old low-rise apartment building in Tokyo, lovely use of a red stripe down the corner of the building.
The Sky Tree. Quite terrifyingly moving at the top, swaying in the breeze. Extremely fast lifts. left my stomach behind at floor 5 or thereabouts, height at the viewing platform on floor 29 is 452 meters!
A very much zoomed in view from the viewing platform of the Sky Tree. The atmosphere was very misty, but theres no disguising how much of Tokyo is very tall buildings.
In huge contrast a two or possibly three story townhouse in Taito – Yanaka. Apparently these small houses are only expected to last about 20 years and are then rebuilt from scratch.

 

Japan – Food

I loved the food in Japan, I was even converted to eating Japanese breakfast every day instead of toast or a croissant. So I was eating fish at three meals per day. I also walked a great deal, more than 85 miles in 12 days, with no pains in my feet, I think the reported benefits of fish oil are indeed true.

Japanese food is very much based around Dashi, which is a stock made from dried fish flakes – usually tuna and kelp – large leaves of a particular kind of seaweed. Also Miso paste which is made by fermenting beans.

A stall selling dried fish flakes of many varieties. You can of course buy ready-made dashi but its not hard to make and has a far superior flavour. The smell is quite hard to get used to, so I didn’t get too close.

Rice crackers with seaweed

 

Mung beans I think
Bunches of very fresh herbs are everywhere, these are coriander.
Or maybe these are!
Little flower stalks are often laid on top of cooked food or sushi as decoration but are eaten too, they’re quite perfumed and have a slightly medicinal taste. As I understand it, they are flowers from a kind of mint or basil known as Shiso, the leaves are also used and are put on the plate, before the food.
Shiso leaves
Wasabi roots sitting in water to keep fresh and cool. Their amazing flavour evaporates(?) extremely fast and in the best restaurants, its not only grated fresh every day but fresh for each served dish.
I think these are a type of Okra, sadly I didn’t get to try them.
Two varieties of aubergine than are readily available in the UK. Tiny deep purple ones and plum light mauve ones, used for different reasons, I suppose.
The head of that day’s tuna, being kept on ice, to show how fresh the stall’s wares are.
Asparagus, lovely fat spikes, at the height of the season in early October. Delicious as Yakatori, wrapped in bacon (very thinly cut Japanese style) and cooked on skewers over a charcoal grill – with a beer of course.
Wooden spoons in a huge range of sizes
Japanese cooking knives, a famous shop where they make the knives themselves and sharpen right before you buy it, to make sure it is ultra-sharp.
All sorts of small china tableware, mostly chopstick rests and tiny dishes for wasabi, grated daikon, pickled ginger  or soy sauce.
A sushi and sashumi banquet, glorious. Three or 4 types of fish, mackerel, prawns, salmon roe, omelette and pickled ginger
Another fabulous meal or raw tuna decorated with cucumber and Shiso leaves and flowers, wasabi and radish, a bowl of miso soup waiting with its lid on to keep warm. Soy sauce and pickled plums in the dishes at the back. Pickled plums are a revelation, so delicious.
Horribly out of focus, maybe beer had been taken already. A massive dish of minced raw tuna, of the best kind, there are three types, the basic tuna which is most likely cooked, the middle tuna which can be eaten raw or cooked and the best kind which is much higher fat content and most usually eaten raw. Then a large dollop of salmon eggs plus the usual decorative edible additions. There is some rice under there somewhere too.
An unusual restaurant in Tokyo in that everything is specifically organic, free range, all sources known and a high proportion of vegetables. Here are tofu, toast with pate and fried sweet potato, as well as couscous with herbs and mixed salad of lettuce, beetroot and chicken.
Part of a 7 or was it 9 course banquet at a hotel in Hakone in the mountains. Sadly I didn’t keep the printed menu (in English) so I don’t know exactly what any of it was. There were some gloriously unexpected tastes, not all of which were palatable but mostly they were utterly delicious. I can recognise raw tuna, raw white fish, maybe sea bream, cucumber, radish (the red slice under the tuna), wasabi paste, a daisy? the white rectangles are bamboo shoots, I think and theres a Physallis in its papery outer layer at the back.
Another banquet at the restaurant used in the filming of Kill Bill. A huge noisy, crowded, theatrical place with excellent food cooked to order on massive grills right in front of us (to the right in this shot) We saw a famous Sumo wrestler there, he needed four chairs, two at the back and another one under each leg.
And finally – street food, there are tiny kitchens all over Tokyo and Kyoto serving first quality rapidly cooked to order food of many types. In this one you can sit at the bar and in others you just take away. Also no-one throws away any rubbish, the packaging/containers are either left at the stall or taken home. Public waste bins are few and far between, as it is understood that each person deals with their own waste. It makes for incredibly clean streets.

 

Japan – People

I am always nervous of photographing people, it seems so intrusive. I do sometimes ask and I’m happy to not take their photo if they say no – of course. But actually asking can be awkward, embarrassing and often just too late, the moment has gone.

This little girl was part of a wedding – she wanted to be in the bridal procession but was not allowed to be. Her mother and grandmother spent quite a few minutes trying to restrain her, but she eventually escaped. There was a big crowd watching!
Here she is – running for freedom.
Here are the bride and groom with their families having formal photos taken.
She looked so sad but such an enigmatic face and expression, i daren’t ask, I knew she would say no. I tried to look as though I was photographing the shrine buildings but I think she saw me, I feel sorry for that.
What a distinguished looking gentleman, i think he might have wanted to be photographed, he wandered around in the temple grounds, adopting rather posed stances. i was too slow for tis one, its slightly out of focus.
Peaceful moments in the grounds of Odawara fort in the late afternoon sun.
These two spent quite a long time trying out different poses with their stuffed rabbit, trying to get just the right selfie. I deliberately caught them between poses.
A school group were practising and then performing a song with actions, to make a video at Odawarra fort, – they were accompanied by 4 volunteers dressed in traditional costume. The teachers welcomed us to take photos. The children were thrilled and wanted to see the images we took.
In the street where people go to parade in costumes (Cosplay)I saw her and I asked if i could take her picture, she was terribly shy but her friends encouraged her, then she broke into this gorgeous smile, and performed the ubiquitous hand gesture.
This lady seemed reluctant to believe she was no longer 20 but kudos for the style!
The Beatles got everywhere didn’t they?! Loving the matched colours though.
Shibuya station, one of the busiest in Tokyo, there’s a bus station right outside where guys in uniform with LED lighting tracks in their jackets and red sabres, orchestrate the passengers into queues and then usher them onto the buses, finishing with a bow to the bus driver!
I came across this man in a side street in Yanaka, Tokyo, he seemed to be making a plan of street services, he spoke no English but I managed to ask Shashin? which is Japanese for photo! He happily agreed, whilst fighting the wind from whipping away his drawing.
This girl was absorbed by her mum’s phone, she had just a minute before, been taking a selfie, big grin on her face. Sadly I was too slow and also a bit reticent to photograph a child.
I asked her just as she moved the poster from in front of her face, held up my camera and pointed, she nodded, I clicked!
I took this in Odawara at the fort. He had dip-died his dogs ears! One pink one orange, he turned away and took up the exact same pose as the dog – irresistible.
On holidays and weekends lots of young people wear full kimono clothes and visit their local temple.

 

Our group waiting for the tutors to arrive with the hire cars. Shades of the “Usual Suspects” A bit of attitude going on as well though.

Architecture of Toulouse and Castres

Toulouse Blagnac airport, new terminal. Ingenious wood slats behind the glazing panels filters the sun but lets in plenty of

 

light.

IMG_2609-1
The approach from the plane into the terminal, none of that grey bland utilitarian style here, it is perfectly functional and the yellow is joyous.
IMG_2607-1
From the outside you see the slatted wood but not the coloured glass dots that are placed at crossing points.
Architecture, France, Airport
Simple glass barriers along the walkways are half-painted in a delightful maritime blue, a sort of abstract beach scene perhaps!
IMG_3172-1
None of those hideous hard plastic chairs here, just soft red comfort.
IMG_3163-1
Even on the sunniest of days the light inside is soft with no glare – a calm space, just right when waiting to board a plane.
IMG_3162-1
Vertical tube lights hanging over the stairwell
IMG_3175-17
Wooden slats punctuated by circles of coloured glass at the crossing points. A subtle reference to stained glass windows maybe?
corten
An unusual gateway to a school, water-jet cut out lettering in Corten steel.

Castres

IMG_2924-15
The weir in the river, looking like an abstract oil painting
IMG_2875-11
River-side living – cantilevered balconies at every level

IMG_2927-16IMG_2896-14

 

IMG_2895-13
Classical references in this old chapel.
corten steel
Some more Corten steel cut-out lettering, this time the letters have been fixed on supports in front of their corresponding gaps.
gardens
Ripe for an abstract linocut print maybe? The formal gardens at the Bishop’s Palace by the river

 

Chicago

Chicago
A pigeon, with excellent taste, fascinated by the guide’s description of Anthony Calder’s Flamingo, standing outside a Mies Van der Rohe building

For four days I wandered this amazing city, my emotional state switching back and forth from heightened anxiety to awe and wonderment.

The suburbs are reputedly very scary places, the maps marked with every reported serious violent crime would put one off from visiting alone. However I didn’t look at those maps, I just booked an AirB&B and took my chances.

As it happened, I was perfectly safe  in the area known as Grand Boulevard down in the south towards the end of the Green Line train, 47th street station.

The first person I met when I got off the train after my flight from London was a white policeman in his car with his partner. He said ‘ Lady, what are you doing here?’ You have to imagine the incredulous tone of his voice and the weight of the stone falling into my stomach.

I explained that I was staying a few days at an Air B&B, he said  ‘we’ll follow you till you get inside the door, don’t go out at night, don’t use the train, get an Uber cab to come right to your door”.  With fear and some confusion, I trundled down the road with my shiny new wheeled suitcase, to the house, knowing I was being watched (an odd feeling in itself). I accessed the apartment and drank a large gin and tonic – duty free from Gatwick Airport.

And so I began my four days with such a burden of fear, it plagued my sleep and became my constant companion, even downtown in the “Loop”, where the main tourist areas are located.

I contacted a good friend who travels alone to far more unsettling places, she gave me excellent advice and suggested that I needed to follow some simple rules and relax, enjoy the city.

I loved Chicago, I have no regrets whatsoever about having been there, stayed there, explored everywhere I wanted to go. I talked to a lot of local people, on the trains, in the streets, in the shops, made a great new friend. Since my return home, I now know that this summer the rate of violent crime has soared.

I have no answers to the problem of escalating violence but the way its being dealt with currently is obviously not working. It is a disgrace that in this large wealthy city not all its citizens enjoy the quality of life they deserve. Racial segregation and the housing “projects” of an earlier era have caused misery to many lives. Gun crime is rife,  many lives could be saved by a ban on guns.

I was inspired to go to Chicago by a lecture at the Victoria and Albert Museum given by a young Chicagoan Timothy Long who told the incredible history of the pioneers, entrepreneurs and downright scallywags who created such a vibrant and extraordinarily forward-looking culture.

It was all about trade, exploration, determination and guts. The discovery of the water routes from the north east coast, through the Great Lakes to the southern end of Lake Michigan, thence the relatively short overland distance to one of the tributaries to the Mississippi and on downward to the South, opened up trades routes of great importance.

But the real key was the building of the Illinois and Michigan Canal allowing shipping from the Great Lakes through Chicago to the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico. The population grew exponentially from 350 to 4000 in just 7 years.

And instead of low rise wooden buildings, the majority of which  burnt down in the great fire in 1871, the city is now the finest example of city planning and inspired building design and techniques. Indeed it is considered to be the birthplace of the skyscraper.

Photographs do not do justice to the exhilarating city but here are some attempts to capture an essence.

If you get the chance to go – go, do not be frightened of by a couple of white policemen in a squad car. One of them kindly gave me his personal email address, perhaps I should write and tell him that i’m fine and that I loved his city. He said “don’t leave without eating a Chicago deep pan pizza”,  and that was yet another piece of advice of theirs that I did not follow!